Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for Islamist fighters in Syria to end the infighting that killed a one-time companion of Osama bin Laden earlier this year, according to an audio tape posted online.
In an audio message posted online late Friday, Zawahiri said "sedition" is to blame for the death of Abu Khaled al-Suri. Al-Suri — who co-founded Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, part of the powerful Islamic Front — was killed in February in a suicide attack.
Zawahiri called for independent sharia arbitration over the murder. The al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front has accused the group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, of being behind the killing.
The fighting between ISIL and Syrian rebel groups, including the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic Front, has hindered rebel efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. More than 3,000 people have been killed this year in the clashes, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Al-Qaida announced it was breaking ties with ISIL in February. The group has also been known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
The authenticity of the Zawahiri statement could not be independently verified, but the Reuters news agency reports the recording sounded like the al-Qaida leader.
More than 140,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million have fled the country since Syria\’s civil war began in March 2011.
The conflict started with mass street protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and turned into an insurgency after a violent crackdown on demonstrators.